Analyst Justin Mason cemented his place in fantasy baseball folklore with his 2021 preseason obsession with Baltimore Orioles outfielder Cedric Mullins.
In 2019, Mullins hit below .100 AVG in the big leagues and scraped a .233 batting average (.648 OPS) in 117 games in the minors between Double-A and Triple-A.
As a 25-year-old in Covid-shortened 2020, the 13th rounder from the 2015 draft, hit three homers in 48 games for the Orioles. The perception by Mason to suggest Mullins as a breakout candidate in 2021 was impressive. And as he admits, a little fortunate.
“Those are really, really lucky picks. I may never have a call like Cedric Mullins again in my career.”
Mullins was the only player in MLB to go 30/30 (that’s 30 home runs and 30 stolen bases).
Over the last ten years, only six players have had 30/30 seasons, and we are talking about some of the greatest players of the era.
So, who is this year’s Cedric Mullins?
Here are EIGHT contenders for the “Next Cedric Mullins” title.
To play at MLB level is an incredible accomplishment for a sportsman. For two brothers to reach The Show demonstrates a remarkable combination of genes, opportunity, and determination. The fact that injuries have waylaid both Bradley’s and Kyle’s careers is an unfortunate example that sometimes you need good luck as well as genes, opportunity, and determination.
In 97 MLB games stretching back to the start of 2018, Zimmer hit .198 AVG with three home runs and 10 swiped bags. He looked an unlikely candidate to go 20/20, so 30/30 was out of the question.
And Zimmer’s struggles against left-handed pitchers (.559 OPS in 2021) and striking out 35% of the time further dampen reasons for optimism.
However, since 1 July (58 starts), the outfielder hit eight homers with 11 stolen bases, which almost equates to 20/30 over a full season. Give him a 162-game slate of healthy production, and he has the tools to become Cedric Mullins mark two.
It is a cliche to say that development is not linear. As we have seen recently, some prospects like Randy Arozarena hit the ground running, and others like Jarred Kelenic take longer to adjust to the jump up to MLB level.
Former Top-25 prospect, Anthony Alford, debuted for Toronto as a 22-year-old. Over four years with the Blue Jays, he appeared in a total of 46 games and was DFA’d with a dismal slash line of .155/.200/.254.
Picked up by the Pirates, Alford hit .083 AVG in April 2021 before heading unclaimed to the minors. In a career-transforming 56 games, Alford hit 14 home runs with nine stolen bases and an attention-grabbing 1.013 OPS. He spent the rest of the season in the majors, and for once, he looked like a major-league caliber player.
The Pirates are not overflowing with outfield talent, so Alford should get plenty of opportunities to make the left-field job his own and maybe put up the kind of figures prospect evaluators knew he had in him.
Despite 600 major-league games, the 27-year-old has never recorded a season above 100 OPS+. He is elite defensively – top outfielder in “Outs Above Average” – so his skills ensure playing opportunities, especially if Tampa Bay moves on from Kevin Kiermaier.
On the base paths, Margot has speed to spare (87th percentile in sprint speed), and the outfielder has swiped 25 bags over his last 162 games despite erratic playing time.
So it is the power numbers that he needs to improve. Double-digit homers in 2021 (125 games) is a positive trend, which was helped by the significant increase in his hard-hit ball rate from 33% to 40%. If you are looking for the next Cedric Mullins, it may be Margot.
The Rays’ outfielder certainly has the tools. In 2019, he hit 20 homers with 25 stolen bases between the Kansas City Royals and Triple-A Omaha. And last season, he homered 13 times with 14 swiped bags in just 292 plate appearances with Tampa Bay.
However, despite the impressive .357 wOBA in the second half of 2021, it is difficult to see his 35% strikeout rate allowing him enough playing time in the crowded Rays’ outfield.
His upside is appealing.
Since Myles Straw’s move to Cleveland, the centerfield job in Houston is up for grabs between Chas McCormick and Jose Siri. However, maybe Jake Meyers is the best of the bunch. A shoulder injury surgery will make him miss Opening Day, but in 68 Triple-A games last season, Meyers hit 16 home runs with 1.006 OPS. He added a further six homers in 49 big league games; that’s a 22 HR, 13 SB season between the two levels.
Michael A. Taylor
Double-digit home runs and stolen bases in 2021 in 142 games, but the 30-year-old had a sub-300 OBP and .653 OPS. Primary centerfielder at Kansas City, but hitting at the bottom of the order.
With Austin Meadows, Randy Arozarena, Manuel Margot, Kevin Kiermaier, and Brett Phillips all vying for playing time in the Tampa Bay outfield, Josh Lowe (and his two options) already faces a tough challenge to get 250 at-bats.
However, the compelling power/speed combo might prove too irresistible to the Rays front office. Lowe has 40 home runs and 56 stolen bases in his last two minor league seasons combined. The 23-year-old is an opening away from vaulting into fantasy baseball superstardom.
It was way back in 2021 when the Brewers took Tyrone Taylor in the second round of the amateur draft. Now 28 years old, Taylor has a 109 OPS+ in 130 MLB games covering the last three years.
Although it is many years since his last 20-stolen base season, he possesses 87th percentile speed and might just need more opportunities.
Photos by Ed Zurga, Mark Goldman